District 2 Supervisor Ramón Valadez presented Pima County’s Community Leadership Award to SFB-CRC Saturday, March 7, at Kino Community Center.
Pima County Program Manager for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Linda Leatherman nominated SFB-CRC for the annual honor.
“We are tremendously indebted to you for your tireless effort in strengthening the quality of life throughout our community,” the award states. “With sincere thanks for your determination, action, and tireless work in making your neighborhood and Pima County a better place to live and raise a family.”
Key volunteers Sue Eaton, Walt Burzycki, Sam McElwaine and Dulce Molina, along with staff members Carlos Valles and April Escarcega, and board members Curt Keim and Penny Pestle were on hand to receive the award. Supervisor Valadez voiced how impressed he was with the 200 plus volunteers at SFB-CRC who do the work of 11 full-time paid employees (22,000 hours a year).
“I am so proud that the work of our volunteers, very small staff, and funders has been recognized by Supervisor Valadez,” declared Executive Director Valles. “It is a real honor to work with so many people who are dedicated to providing sustainable food and economic security for all.”
Little seven-year-old Serena listened carefully. Inspired by the presentation, the youngest donor in the room walked up and gave $25.
Serena and her mom Rosemary Phillips were among the approximately 50 members of the community who helped kick off the Nourishing Our Community public campaign February 7 at Rancho Sahuarita for SFB-CRC’s new 13,000 square feet building. They were there despite the fact that dad Randall was being deployed two days later!
“We are on the home stretch,” exclaimed Board President Penny Pestle. The campaign has raised 70 percent, which is $1.5 million toward the $2.2 million goal.
Rancho Sahuarita Company’s Jeremy Sharpe generously provided the beautiful La Villita Room for the event that included music from Mary Lou Catania and delicious food provided by Ann Striker. Town of Sahuarita mayor Tom Murphy and Sahuarita Public Schools superintendent Dr. Manny Valenzuela spoke in support of the project.
“We were honored they attended,” Penny said, “and we’re grateful particularly for the support that they and the Sahuarita community are providing for the construction of the new building.”
Both large and small donations have made the difference, she indicated. The campaign has received support from foundations, large individual donors, and contracts, including contributors like La Posada, Freeport-McMoran Foundation, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, and Pima County, as well as a large anonymous donation. Freeport-McMoran has challenged the community to match its $150,000 gift.
“The new building will help us better fulfill our mission of providing sustainable food and economic security to the growing number of households who visit,” Penny added. “Emergencies in the last few years, including the government shutdown, local teachers strike, Asarco mine strike, and the Coronavirus crisis only reinforce the need for a community services hub that will be the only full-time resource of its kind in the greater Sahuarita area.”
Thoreau said it’s not what you look at; it’s what you see, and who could possibly have a more powerful perspective on the impact of SFB-CRC in this community than someone who has looked at it from “both sides?”
April Escarcega remains a grateful client and has evolved from a dedicated volunteer into a part-time paid staff member. For about four years now she has been sorting, preparing BackPacks, loading, stacking, moving, and driving, recalling the time her colleagues were stunned when she backed the big truck perfectly into a tight space her first time out.
Several years ago when April approached SFB-CRC for assistance for her disabled husband, teenage son, and herself, she was impressed by and remembered the kindness and respect she was shown, so she tries to always pass that forward.
“It was hard for me to go in,” she recalls, “but they didn’t make me feel like that.”
She would argue with anyone that might say there isn’t great need for what SFB-CRC does. She sees it each week on her Tuesday through Saturday schedule, and she hears the gratitude from clients loud and clear.
“They are so appreciative,” she said, and that inspires her to work harder at what she does.
“It doesn’t feel like working at all. It gives me a sense of doing something for others. The food bank is really proactive and they try to help everyone they can.”
April has applied for a scholarship through the Women of Quail Creek, an organization that helps local women seeking educational opportunities. Her goal is to become a warehouse manager.
Her son, a sophomore at Sahuarita High School, who’s thinking about a career in either auto technology or culinary arts, also volunteers twice a week. “He really enjoys it,” she affirmed.
April also emphasized the organization’s impact on nutrition and health. “We wouldn’t eat as healthy as we do,” she remarked. “I think it makes for a healthier community.”
“April always completes her tasks with cheer and then asks for more,” said SFB-CRC Board President Penny Pestle. “I have never known anyone who works harder and smarter. She is a gift to SFB-CRC, and with people like April, we will continue to grow this organization to meet the needs of the community.”
Everyone is taking a hit from the COVID-19 crisis, and food banks are no exception.
SFB-CRC has already experienced a dramatic increase in visitors for food—295 households the week of March 16—as more of our neighbors lose income and employment every day. Other than the week before Thanksgiving, that’s a record, and that number is unfortunately expected to climb.
Restaurant employees and those in the travel industry are particularly hard hit. Asarco workers out on strike for months have had their temporary jobs cut. Many others are facing unemployment lines and daily struggles to pay bills.
Food banks are witnessing what was feared. SFB-CRC is now dealing with a decline in the amount of food contributed from a variety of sources, including the Agency Market, supermarkets, and excess Mexican produce. People are likely stockpiling groceries and using canned goods in their pantry that were once donated, so the food bank is running out of protein-rich foods, such as canned fish and meat, peanut butter, black beans, and hearty soups.
SFB-CRC also faces a probable decrease in the number of volunteers from self-quarantining and the inevitable migration of winter residents back to their summer homes. Governor Ducey has made it clear that food banks are an essential service to our communities, which is why he has authorized the National Guard to assist grocery stores and food banks. National guard troops start helping SFB-CRC on Thursday, April 2, but SFB-CRC urgently needs financial help as well.
The Board is asking that you consider a generous financial donation to help purchase protein and other food for an increasing number of those who have lost their jobs, been furloughed, or cut to part-time. Board President Penny Pestle stated that “together we can help them.”
Please go to sahuaritafoodbank.org to find out how you can help, or send a check to Sahuarita Food Bank, 17750 S. La Cañada Drive, Sahuarita, Arizona 85629. Even if you have filed your 2019 state taxes, Arizona taxpayers can claim a tax credit for 2020 with a donation to SFB-CRC, an Arizona Qualifying Charitable Organization, of $400 per individual or $800 per couple filing—a chance to contribute that will cost you nothing.
Are you wondering how you can help right now, even during the COVID-19 crisis? If you have experience with or skills that would relate to grant writing, you can collaborate from home with our extraordinary grant writer to help raise dollars for food and operations, as well as for our new building.
If you would like to further explore this opportunity to help your community, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
“One of my most favorite programs at the SFB-CRC,” offered Executive Director Carlos Valles. “We are able to provide a sack of nutritious meals and snacks to kids for the weekend so they are ready to learn on Monday.”
The BackPacks program is designed to help those kids who really need to get nutritious food on the weekends without identifying them, but SFB-CRC Board VP Curt Keim agrees that’s somewhat difficult. “In practice it is impossible to keep confidentiality, both because of the enthusiasm of the children and the size of the pack.”
“They can hardly wait till Friday,” said one local teacher who witnesses each week the joy and gratitude from the kids and their families who desperately need it. The teacher said that one mother of five calls in almost daily for support and with thanks. “Without it she wouldn’t know what to do since the nearest food bank is far away.”
Another added, “I have noticed that the children who do get it (BackPacks) do not complain about being hungry as much as the other children do. I thank you for the program and the help it gives my children who need it.”
SFB-CRC purchases the food in bulk and about 20 volunteers put packs together and deliver them to the schools every week, rotating weekly menus. Each BackPack contains nutritious, kid-friendly food for two breakfasts, two main meals, and snacks such as shelf-stable milk, juice, cereal, canned meat, peanut butter, a sweet potato, and fruit. School personnel identify the nutritionally at-risk children.
SFB-CRC has doubled target schools from four to eight in the last two years, and Carlos indicated that the numbers do vary from week to week, with a maximum so far of 471 being served. Need is estimated by the percentage of children on the Federal Free and Reduced-Price Meals program. Families with incomes up to 130% of the poverty level qualify for free school meals, and up to 185% for reduced-price meals, which is also the benchmark for eligibility for food banks. Each school reports to the USDA every semester the number of students who sign up, and the numbers, sadly, are pretty significant, Curt said, most from 35 to 50 percent, some over 70 percent.
There is no way to accurately chart the impact this program has on learning, he added, but school staff have consistently affirmed that families in the program have a greater sense of well-being, and children arrive on Monday morning more prepared for school.
SFB-CRC has been able to fund the program and its expansion mostly through Community Service Block Grants from Pima County, contracts with the Town of Sahuarita, and grants from La Posada Foundation, Arizona Diamondbacks, Wells Fargo, Sundt Foundation, Cardinals Charities, The Good Shepherd United Church of Christ Women’s Fellowship, and Walmart 1411 in Sahuarita, as well as individual contributions.
“School staff routinely share with me that students do not have to worry about going hungry on weekends,” Carlos declared. “Students get very excited when our delivery team pulls up to the school each week!”
The program has continued uninterrupted while schools have been closed for the COVID-19 crisis, with the school districts making the BackPacks available at meal distribution points in the community.